August 3

A Belfast Orangeman named Hugh Gaine on this day in 1752 published the first issue of The New York Mercury, a newspaper which established a unique first in American journalism by simultaneously publishing in two locations, each with its own political philosophy. When he arrived in New York in 1745, upon the completion of his apprenticeship in Belfast, Gaine was just eighteen years of age. He was employed by James Parker for $1.25 a week. Later his bed and board was added, prompting him to remain with Parker until 1752. Then he left to establish his own printing office. The fifth number of the Mercury contained a statement in which its editor said: “By Hugh Gaine at his Printing Office on Hunter’s Key, next Door to Mr. Walton’s Storehouse, where all persons may be supplied with the paper at Twelve Shillings per annum, and Advertisements of a moderate Length inserted at Five Shillings each; Also, Printing done at a reasonable Rate, with care and Expedition.”

The success of the sheet was immediate. Within four months Gaine was announcing that subscriptions were being taken in such distant locations as Lime, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Elizabeth-Town, New Jersey. While the paper prospered, Gaine was not content to be merely the publisher of a weekly news sheet. He added such items as almanacs and bibles and other books in such variety and volume as to become the most prolific printer of his time. Among American first editions printed by Gaine were Robinson Crusoe and the initial New York printing of the New Testament. Apparently finding that even this activity was not sufficient to keep him busy, he took on the sale of military supplies, such as broadswords, musical instruments, clothing, furniture, and all the goods which accompany the operation of a general store. And as a sideline he sold the always profitable patent medicines.

When the notorious Stamp Act was passed. Gaine suspended the Mercury, publishing an occasional paper which he named A Patriotic Advertisement. Politically he leaned toward the Colonial cause but in print hewed to the neutral line. In September, 1775 when the British occupation of New York appeared imminent, he had one of his presses and a quantity of types hauled to Newark, where he began publication of a paper, The New York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury. In it he ardently supported the Whig persuasion, while at the same time remaining neutral in the New York paper. In such fashion he straddled the fence until November, 1776 when, following the Battle of Long Island, he became convinced that the British would suppress the American rebellion. Ceasing the printing of the Whig sheet, he confined his activities to New York and espoused the loyalist beliefs.

It was during this same year that Gaine published a book which became notorious. Military Collections and Remarks was written by a British Army major named Robert Donkin and contained a passage which has subsequently been cut out of all known copies but one. Donkin wrote, in reference to instruction in the use of the Indian bows and arrows, “Dip arrows in matter of small pox, and twang them at the American rebels, in order to innoculate them; This would sooner disband these stubborn, ignorant, enthusiastic savages, than any other compulsive measures. Such is their dread and fear of that disorder!”

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